An arrhythmia is a change in your heartbeat's rhythm that may feel like a racing, slow or irregular heartbeat. Arrhythmias usually aren't serious and are oftentimes caused by stress, caffeine or alcohol. However, an arrhythmia can be dangerous if you have an underlying heart problem. See a health care professional if you have symptoms of arrhythmia, such as heart palpitations, especially if they are accompanied by light-headedness, shortness of breath or chest pain.
Caffeine and Arrhythmia
The stimulant caffeine commonly causes arrhythmias in the form of heart palpitations, or a racing heart. A study published by "BMC Cardiovascular Disorders" in 2004 determined that, among 100 patients with arrhythmia, coffee was cited as a triggering factor 25 percent of the time. Consumed in moderate amounts of up to 300 milligrams per day -- or about 4 cups of coffee -- caffeine will not cause health problems for most adults, although larger doses are more likely to cause side effects like arrhythmia. According to MedlinePlus, decreasing caffeine intake will oftentimes significantly decrease heart palpitations.
Energy Drinks and Arrhythmia
Energy drinks -- soft-drink-like, caffeinated beverages that often also contain herbal stimulants, vitamins and other ingredients -- may be more likely to cause arrhythmia than other caffeine sources because of their sky-high caffeine content. Some energy drinks contain as much as 500 milligrams of caffeine per serving, according to consumer safety advocate group Injury Board. While caffeine-induced arrhythmias usually aren't serious, it is possible for a caffeine overdose from drinking multiple, highly caffeinated energy drinks to cause death in someone with an underlying heart problem. Thus, it's imperative to limit caffeine intake from energy drinks and other sources if you have a heart condition.
Alcohol and Arrhythmia
Alcohol also frequently causes arrhythmias. According to the research published in "BMC Cardiovascular Disorders" in 2004, alcohol was an arrhythmia trigger in 34 percent of patients. As with caffeine, arrhythmias caused by alcohol consumption usually aren't serious. However, in alcoholics who have incurred heart damage from chronic alcohol abuse, an alcohol-induced cardiac arrhythmia can be fatal. It's important to limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two daily drinks for men to reduce risk of fatal heart events and other serious consequence of heavy drinking, according to Mayo Clinic.
Besides caffeine and alcohol, other common causes of minor arrhythmias include stress and physical exertion. In addition to limiting alcohol and caffeine intake, stress-management techniques like meditation or tai chi, along with regular exercise, may help reduce arrhythmia symptoms while also benefiting heart health. Sometimes, an arrhythmia may be caused by heart disease or a heart valve problem; in such cases you may require medical treatments such as medication, cardiac defibrillation, an artificial pacemaker or surgery to correct the arrhythmia. Although not all arrhythmias have an identifiable cause, your doctor should be able to determine whether your arrhythmia is serious by conducting an echocardiogram and other diagnostic tests.
- MedlinePlus: Heart Palpitations
- FamilyDoctor.org: Arrhythmia: A Problem With Your Heartbeat
- "BMC Cardiovascular Disorders"; Arrhythmia-Provoking Factors and Symptoms at the Onset of Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation: A Study Based on Interviews with 100 Patients Seeking Hospital Assistance; A. Hansson, et al.; August 2004
- The Injury Board; Energy Drinks -- Caffeine Overload Should Be Labeled Says Report; Jane Akre; September 2008
- Mayo Clinic; Caffeine -- How much is too much?
- "Alcohol Health & Research World"; Alcohol, Arrhythmia, and Sudden Death; H. Friedman; 1992
- Mayo Clinic: Alcohol Use -- If you drink, keep it moderate